Parshat Chukat-Balak
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Parshat Chukat-Balak

Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Beth Sholom of Pasckack Valley, Park Ridge, Conservative

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“Vayivku et Aharon shloshim yom, kol beit Yisrael.” And they cried over Aaron (mourned his passing) for 30 days, the entire house of Israel.

This text from Parshat Chukat tells us that all the people – men and women, even children – mourned the death of Aaron HaKohen. In contrast, only the men mourned Moshe Rabbeinu’s death, as later reported in Deut. 34:8, “Vayivku B’nai Yisrael.” The text continues that no one ever reached Moshe’s level of holiness and prophecy.

What was so special about Aaron that all loved him so deeply? Didn’t Moshe teach Torah to the entire nation? He was, after all, the person in whose merit God provided the manna to the generation in the desert.

Rashi explains that Aaron spent lots of time with and extended himself to bring harmony and peace to individuals, especially between husbands and wives and between friends. Moshe had a profound influence on the nation but he was not as personally involved in the day-to-day affairs of B’nai Yisrael. Aaron greeted young and old with good wishes and inquired after each person’s welfare with love and concern. His great task in life, and his great joy, was to help people improve their relationships.

He was experienced and therefore both fearless and skillful in intervening at just the right time in arguments between friends and spouses. He saw the good side of people and helped bring it to the surface.

The following is my paraphrase of a section from Tractate Derech Eretz Zuta, Chapter 9:

Whenever Aaron sensed hostility brewing between two people, he would approach each of them in turn and say, “Why do you dislike him/her? Don’t you know he/she loves you, admires your X,Y, or Z and always talks about your wonderful A, B, or C?”

That would open the person to sharing his/her plaint with Aaron, “Why then does he/she do such and such to hurt me?” Armed with that critical information, Aaron would go to the other party, repeat the process, and then try to encourage each to step forward to reclaim the relationship, all the while assuring each that the other was really eager to see it flourish.

In the Book of Malachi (2:7), God says of Aaron: “He walked with me in peace and fairness and turned many away from iniquity.” That is another reason the Sages of the Mishnah ask us to be disciples of Aaron the Priest. Let us make it our business to love people, seeking their peace and welfare. Like Aaron, let us become more committed to and expert at building shalom bayit – peace in our homes, synagogues, and communities. Let us proclaim this Shabbat to be Aaron’s Shabbat, and dedicate it to tikkun shalom bayit – fixing any problems in our marriages and also repairing the rifts between parents and children, and brothers and sisters.

Summertime is a time of reconfigured realities. Kids may be off to camp, routines have changed or are about to, vacations may be around the corner. We are asked by Aaron’s example to not just enjoy ourselves but to invest in our relationships, to restore wholeness and harmony where they have ebbed.

Our language can be made softer, sweeter; our fuses lengthened, our eyes widened in awe at the manifold blessings we already enjoy and the many more waiting to grace our lives. Let us allow our appreciation and our compliments to flow more freely.

So follow our tradition and contact the Aaron in you, your inner priest of loving kindness, and put that spirit to work on your family and other relationships. If your inner Aaron gets good at it, put him/yourself to work on helping others, gingerly at first, and then with more conviction and confidence. Just like Aaron, you will be responsible for bringing people closer to the Torah of Life.

Shabbat Shalom.

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